This gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘grub’: thanks to conventional livestock industries being unable to satisfy a growing worldwide demand for meat, we may soon have to turn to alternative sources of protein such as sausages made from mashed up maggots, researchers at the University of Queensland claim.
Around 200 years ago there were fewer than one billion humans living on Earth. According to UN calculations there are now more than 7 billion of us, with current studies predicting that this figure will top 10 billion by 2050. This is likely to put a strain on global food supplies so the team at Queensland has been investigating the possibility of incorporating alternative proteins into our diets using insects and insect larvae.
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“An overpopulated world is going to struggle to find enough protein unless people are willing to open their minds, and stomachs, to a much broader notion of food,” Professor of meat science Louwrens Hoffman said. “The biggest potential for sustainable protein production lies with insects and new plant sources.”
Though many cultures across the world do currently consume insect protein, Prof Hoffman says that previous studies have shown that Western consumers are only willing to try such foods if the ingredients are sufficiently processed and disguised.
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“Insect protein needs to be incorporated into existing food products as an ingredient,” Prof Hoffman said. “For example, one of my students has created a very tasty insect ice-cream.”
Even if a substantial number of us remain put off at the thought of chowing down on bug burgers and insect ice cream, Prof Hoffman says creepy crawlies could still play an important part in our food chain as feed for chickens. In a trail investigating the use of larvae from black soldier flies he and his collaborators found that chicken feed made up of up to 15 per cent of larvae meal produced birds with the same flavour, aroma, juiciness and tenderness, as birds fed on grain.
“There needs to be a better understanding of the difference between animal feed and human food, and a global reappraisal of what can constitute healthy, nutritional and safe food for all,” said Hoffman. “Poultry is a massive industry worldwide and the industry is under pressure to find alternative proteins that are more sustainable, ethical and green than the grain crops currently being used. It’s all pretty logical if you think about it. Chickens in the wild don’t eat feed preparations. They eat insects and larvae.”
Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.